Best Audio Interface (May 2018) – Buyer’s Guide and Reviews

Best Audio Interface (May 2018) – Buyer’s Guide and Reviews

Best Audio InterfaceA good audio interface is a must-have for anyone who is into highest quality listening or someone looking for quality recording experience. You might not be acquainted with the term audio interface, hence looking for the best audio interface for yourself could be a big challenge. Fret not. We are here to provide you a comprehensive guide to buying the right audio interface for yourself.

If you’re into creating and sustaining professional sound, an audio interface serves the right purpose for you. It can act as the catalyst to connect all your speakers, your microphone, studio monitors and all your instruments. If you do not have an audio interface, it can become a hard task to get a high quality and professional sound production setup.

A lot of people use a pair of headphones and a desktop-run headphone jack to serve the purpose, but it does not suffice the need to get the right quality of producing and recording experience. This is why an audio interface is an essential setup.

There are a number of audio interfaces readily available in the market with different levels of configuration and in a different range of price. But the process of randomly seeing hundreds of audio interfaces can be intimidating, hence in this article, we will detail you on what are the key considerations that you need to make before planning to get an audio interface, along with the best 10 audio interfaces available in the market with accurate features.

In-Depth Audio Interface Reviews

Now that you know of the key factors to buying an audio interface, here is a list of the top 10 audio interfaces that are the most popular as well as useful ones in the market as of now.

#1 Behringer U-Phoria UM2

BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UM2The U-Phoria UM2 is a compact and affordable dedicated audio interface. It offers 2 inputs, one is a single XLR input to plug in your microphone; while the other is a1/4” cable that will blink red if you are clipping. On the backside is a switch that allows you to toggle the power on/off. It also provides two outputs as well. The first one is a ¼” headphone output jack on the front side and the other is an RCA output at the back to connect to studio monitors or an amplifier. Moreover, it supports a 16-bit resolution at 48 kHz sample rates, which is sufficiently loud and clear for professional sound quality. The mic preamp is also clean and clear.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: Ableton Live, Avid Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase etc.
  • OS compatibility: Mac OS and Windows.
  • Device Connectivity: USB
  • Size: Desk and Portable.
  • Inputs: Microphone, Guitar/ live instrument, headphone input.
  • Outputs: RCA, ¼” cable
  • Sound: 48kHz resolution.

#2 Behringer U-Control UCA202

BEHRINGER U-CONTROL UCA202The ultra-compact and bus-powered U-Control UCA202 audio interface can easily be connected to your Windows and Mac computer with any audio device. This does not require any setup. All you need to do is simply plug your USB audio interface into an available USB port on your computer. It consists of two analog inputs and outputs. The stereo headphone output with control levels allows you to monitor both the input and output. The U-Control download offers a wide range of software packages for recording and audio editing.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: Compatible almost all DAWs.
  • OS compatibility: Mac OS and Windows.
  • Device Connectivity: USB
  • Size: Desk and Portable.
  • Input: RCA.
  • Output: RCA.
  • Sound: 48 kHz converters.

  #3 Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen)

FOCUSRITE SCARLETT SOLO (2ND GEN)This is an ideal choice for singers and songwriters who want to record professional high-quality vocals and guitar. It is affordable and easily portable. All you need to do is plug in your mic and record high-quality sound in studio-quality audio. On the backside of the device is the TRS/XLR inputs and MIDI connections, along with a digital clock and optical connections. If you want to use is for personal monitoring, there is a ¼” headphone output and control. Power is provided via the USB connection, which means you do not need an external power supply. The preamps and audio quality are pretty impressive as well.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: Compatible with most DAWs including, Ableton Live Lite, First Focusrite Creative Pack, and Tone Bundle.
  • OS Compatibility: Mac OS and Windows
  • Device Connectivity: USB
  • Size: Desk and Portable.
  • Inputs: XLR, Line.
  • Sample sound rates: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz.

#4 PreSonus AudioBox USB 2×2

PRESONUS AUDIOBOX USB 2X2It is an excellent solution if you are looking for high-quality sound recordings. It is a USB bus-powered audio interface with 2 microphone inputs and 2 balanced TRS outputs and MIDI input/output so that you can carry it with you. It also comes with Studio One Artist music creation and production software that gives you unlimited tracks so you can start recording right away. It uses professional grade analog as well as digital converters with a range of 102db and 24-bit sample rate, making it one of the best USB powered audio interface in the market as of now.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: Compatible with most DAWs.
  • OS Compatibility: Mac OS and Windows.
  • Device connectivity: USB
  • Size: Desk and Portable.
  • Input: 2 microphone inputs.
  • Outputs: 2 balanced TRS output.
  • Sound: 441.1 and 48 kHz rate.

#5 Audient iD4

AUDIENT ID4The iD4 is a compact and easy to use USB computer audio interface. It consists of 2 separate inputs, one is a mic input with a combination of XLR jack and switchable 48V phantom power, along with a J-FET based instrument DI input. It also consists of a headphone output on TRS jack and a pair of loudspeaker outputs. Apart from this, there is a Monitor Mix front-panel knob that handles the input signals with the DAW return. There are also twin five-LED curved ladder meters. The most useful feature on the ID4 is the button that is labeled “iD” which helps in ScrollControl function to turn the volume control into a rotary encoder in order to control the plug-in parameters.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: Compatible with most DAWs.
  • OS compatibility: Mac OS, Windows, and iOS.
  • Device Compatibility: USB
  • Size: Desk and Portable.
  • Inputs: XLR, Line
  • Output: TRS speaker output, 2 headphone outputs
  • Sound: 24-bit/96 kHz.

#6 Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS KOMPLETE AUDIO 6Komplete Audio 6 is a mid-level heavy-duty audio interface from Native Instruments. It is portable to an extent that you can fit it in your bag. One of the main features is its six input and output channels, which do not require an external power. The selection buttons are quick and easy in line. The gain knobs supply enough power for the mics. It also features a number of connectivity at its affordable price. You could plug in your studio monitors as well as your woofers at ease. If you are a beginner looking to upgrade your production quality, this audio interface is a must-have for you.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: Compatible with almost all DAWs.
  • OS compatibility: Mac OS and Windows.
  • Device Connectivity: USB
  • Size: Desk and Portable.
  • Inputs: 4 analog inputs, 2-balanced mic.
  • Outputs: 4 balanced analog outputs (TRS).
  • Sound: 48V Phantom Power.

#7 Steinberg UR44

STEINBERG UR44The Steinberg UR44 is a compact and rugged audio interface with 6 input channels and 4-output support, along with MIDI in/out and 2 independent outs for headphone. There are 4 classic amps (clean, crunch, lead, drive) are pretty good sound-wise. The front end consists of plenty of mic gain (+52dB max). One of the most important features of this audio interface is the onboard DSP, which can be used to run the bundles dspMixFx application, power plug-ins within the applications including 4 guitar amp situations. It is solid in design and ruggedly built with an all-metal design. The 4 inputs in the front have D-PRE mic inputs which also accepts ¼” balanced and unbalanced connectors.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: Compatible with most DAWs, Cubase is recommended though.
  • OS compatibility: Mac OS and Windows.
  • Device connectivity: USB 2.0
  • Size: Desk and Large
  • Inputs: 2 line inputs, 4 mic XLR preamps.
  • Outputs: 4 output channels, MIDI I/O ports.
  • Extra compatibility: iPhone and iPad

#8 PreSonus Audiobox 1818VSL

PRESONUS AUDIOBOX 1818VSLThis PreSonus Audiobox opts for USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 compatibility while combining hardware inputs and outputs with a virtual mixer application. The front side has 8 combo jacks for the mic, instrument and line inputs, while the rear panel consists of 8 analog outs and main outs that are grouped together, along with a jack for the AC adapter and an on/off switch. One great feature of this audio interface is that it does not require anything else apart from your computer and speakers. It is a mid-level audio interface that is an ideal choice for home studio or for advances level recording.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: most DAWs.
  • OS compatibility: Mac OS and Windows.
  • Device Connectivity: USB sync LED.
  • Size: Rack Mounted.
  • Inputs: 2 combo mic inputs, 6-combo mic inputs with high-headroom.
  • Outputs: balanced main L/R outputs and 8 balanced line outputs.

#9 Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 [2nd Gen] w/ Pro Tools

FOCUSRITE SCARLETT 18I20 [2ND GEN] W PRO TOOLSThe Focusrite 18i20 is a second generation Scarlett audio interface with 8 natural-sounding Scarlett emic preamps along with plenty of headroom and low and minimal distortion. It has an upgrade from its older version with additional two newly designed instrument inputs and increased headroom. The sound quality is pretty impressive with sample rates up to 192 kHz and 32-sample buffer. It also comprises of 10-balanced ¼ inch jack outputs with the dedicated stereo pair, along with 2 headphone outputs with dedicated gain controls and a MIDI I/O.

Its monthly software plug-in offers Focusrite’s Plug-in collective via download upon registration. It is compatible with iPad, iPhone as well as iPod touch. This audio interface also offers 2-years limited warranty on any manufacturing defects.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: Mostly all DAWs.
  • OS compatibility: Mac OS and Windows.
  • Device Connectivity: USB.
  • Size: Rack mounted.
  • Inputs: 2 newly designed instrument inputs.
  • Outputs: 10-balanced analog outputs including the dedicated stereo pair.

#10 MOTU UltraLite AVB

MOTU ULTRALITE AVBThe UltraLite AVB is a USB 2.0 audio interface with 2 preamps each of which offers 60dB of gain and 2 Hi Z guitar inputs, 6 analog inputs, 6 analog outputs along with separate phone and monitor outputs. It also consists of 8 channel ADAT mic preamp and an external headphone amp all of it with ease of use. The LCD front panel controls give access to most of the features of this audio interface. The front panel controls consist of 5 rotary knobs that provide level control for mic and DI inputs along with a shared output level control for the main outputs or even the headphones.

Basic Features

  • DAW compatibility: All major DAWs.
  • OS compatibility: Mac OS, iOS, and Windows.
  • Device connectivity: USB 2.0
  • Size: Desk and Portable.
  • Inputs: Analog I/O; 2 mic inputs, 2 guitar inputs, 6 line inputs.
  • Outputs: 8 lineouts.

Key Considerations To Make Before Buying The Best Audio Interface

Here are the some of the key features to consider before you plan to choose an audio interface.

  • DAW software and Operation System Compatibility
  • Device Connectivity
  • Inputs and Outputs
  • Sizes and Portability

1. DAW software and Operation System Compatibility

For a general heads-up, DAW means Digital Audio Workstation, which is the software to help you arrange music. A rule of thumb here is that the first thing you need to know and see if your DAW is compatible with your audio interface before you plan to purchase one. You need not have to Google and search for the number of lists out there, rather read the manual for the audio interface that can easily be available online too.

There are two more options to see this –

  • See if the company you are planning to get the audio interface from also sells DAW or not.
  • At times seller could also provide a package deal of audio interface with DAW, see if you could crack a deal like that.

However, it should not be a cause of worry for you since most of the high-quality audio interfaces are compatible with some of the famous brands of DAWs like Logic, or Ableton.

Once you have understood about your device’s compatibility with the DAW, check for the interface’s compatibility with your Operating System. These days, all devices are compatible with both Mac OS as well as Windows; however, there are some that support only one OS. So check that before you plan to buy one.

2. Computer Port

Aforementioned, your audio interface will work as the catalyst to connect your computer to the speakers. Hence, many times, the cable type of the audio interface might connect to your computer, but sometimes it might not.

Here is a list of 3 of the most widely used connections for an audio interface:

USB port

USB audio interface connection is the most widely used connectivity for home studios as well as for bedrooms. It comes at an affordable price. All computers have a USB port.

Firewire

Firewire is not quite a common option for most audio interfaces as it mostly comes with the high-end models. However, it allows for a faster data transfer.

Thunderbolt

This is one of the freshest connectivity ports with audio interfaces but is gaining high popularity. It is compatible with both MAC as well as Windows.

3. Inputs and Outputs

For connecting to any audio interfaces, one needs to understand what type of interface is required. And for this, you need to specifically understand the input and output channels to connect your interface for good sound recording. For instance, you cannot connect your piano with a TRS microphone input. Hence it is important for you to understand which channel your audio interface.

Input Channel

  1. a)   Microphone Input: Allows you to connect your audio interface directly into a microphone.
  2. b)   Line Input: Mostly used for microphones or instruments such as the guitar.
  3. c)    MIDI Input: Used for MIDI-based keyboards and keyboard controllers.
  4. d)    DI Input: Used for live instruments such as guitars or bass.

Output Channel

  1. a)   RCA: A popular channel with a most audio interface, recognized by its white and red cables.
  2. b)   TRS: Left and right cables so as to allow connection to speakers separate it.
  3. c)    MIDI: Used for MIDI-based keyboards and keyboard controllers.
  4. d)    XLR: Used typically for mixers.

If you’re a beginner, a simple interface with the microphone, DI and MIDI inputs are your basic necessities. For outputs, all you need basically is an RCA output that can connect to a studio monitor.

4. Sizes and Portability

There are two common shapes of most audio interfaces.

  1. a)   Desktop – They are compact in size and easily portable.
  2. b)   Rack Mounted – They are slightly heavier and longer and require a rack-mounting desk.

Desktop size is mostly for beginners and for the home setup, while rack-mounting size is for the professional studio setup.

Wrapping UP

Aforementioned, having a good audio interface is beneficial for high-quality sound recording and production. With an in-depth understanding of its key features and factors, buying the best audio interface for yourself in the market is going to be a cakewalk for you. In this article, we have given you a complete guide to understanding everything you need to know before making the purchase.

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